Ever since those cobbling elves did a bit of overnight work for that struggling shoemaker, toys, pets & even plants have been leading busy, double-lives after the lights go out. Now, we’ve got video games mixing it up after the arcade closes for the night. Where screen characters from different machines (made in different eras) visit neighboring machines that run with different programs & rapidly evolving levels of digital sophistication. It’s a heckuva clever idea for a computer animated pic, and whenever WRECK-IT RALPH sticks to this conceit, it’s a treat to watch. The glitch is that co-scripter/director Rich Moore brings a tv sensibility to the package and won’t stick to his program. Bouncing around three or four games, we never get bearings on how the various electronic characters in each machine should behave, so when interlopers clash with the electronic natives, any consequences are nothing more than random zaps or harmless explosions. GAME OVER/RESET makes for a pretty inconsequential happy ending. The main story involves Ralph, the trash & bash villain of FIX-IT-FELIX. His quest to just once be the good guy has him seeking glory at other arcade console games which puts him in danger while leaving his own game Out-of-Order. If anything, the story has too much going on, and the many references to other kiddie classics leaves this one with an unsatisfying magpie quality. (THE WIZARD OF OZ/’39, gets a particular workout at the SUGAR RUSH console, though, in deference to Uncle Walt, the villainous King Candy in this Disney production is more loony Ed Wynn than stuttering Frank Morgan.) Jack McBrayer is just about perfect as the voice of that goodie two-shoes, Fix-It-Felix, but the rest of the starry vocal cast overdose on one-note characterizations. Happily, the last act stays with SUGAR RUSH long enough for us to get a feel for its design, which does wonders for increasing the participation factor. But this is one of those films where you keep thinking how much better it could be.
DOUBLE-BILL: Don’t miss the DVD’s Bonus Short, PAPERMAN/’12, last year’s Oscar® winner for Best Animated Short. A gorgeous b&w (with color accents) big city romantic fable about a chance meetings, skyscrapers and a blizzard’s worth of paper airplanes.